By Michael Deming
The “rut” is a very special time of year to have a tag, regardless of the species you are hunting. These are usually limited opportunity hunts because they are putting you in the field when the animals are most vulnerable. This means your chance of that trophy of a lifetime is usually much greater. Whether we are talking about the bugling bulls in September, mulies or whitetail deer in November or big bruins in June, this is a great time to be in the field.
On the opposite side of the equator, our spring is their fall and the South Island of New Zealand is home to some of the largest red stag in the world. This is the time of year that those big boys are roaring like lions to show dominance and with no major big game seasons going on in North America, it’s a great time to enjoy the off-season with some prime rutting activity.
The Sportsman’s News Team makes this trip every couple of years to hunt with world renowned outfitter, Lindsay Frasier and Woodbury Safari Lodge. This 5-star lodge comfortably supports several groups of hunters each week. With the Sportsman’s News team taking a spot and the SN Pro Membership Sweepstakes winner taking another, there are usually a couple of open spots available to tag along to be part of the experience. This year, Jeff Simpson and his wife, Becky, took one of those extra spots. Chancy Cathcart of Wyoming was our lucky Pro Member Sweepstakes winner who opted to bring his good buddy, Matt Ruzicka, along for some additional trigger time as his guest. Troy and Emily Holm from Nebraska rounded out the group.
After making the nearly two-day trek to New Zealand, we were greeted by Lindsay Frasier himself at the Christchurch airport. We then made the one-hour drive to the elite Woodbury Lodge, where we would be living for the next week. My wife, Lisa, who seldom gets the opportunity to travel with me for work, had always wanted to go to New Zealand and since she is a world class photographer, we made sure she was to be my travel partner.
The initial assessment of this lodge by the group was a two-thumbs up. Kim is Lindsay’s wife and camp host and Damo, the executive chef, rounded out the group for our stay. A five-course meal, with New Zealand lamb as the main course, is how we started off our first evening, which set the tone for the rest of the week. The plan would be to get up every morning, eat breakfast at the lodge and drive with our guides to one of the numerous ranches where we would hunt our target species for that day. Since I had hired a local cameraman to help with the duties of filming our winners, I would tag along with Jeff and Becky to capture their hunt.
The forecast for day one was going to be clear and cool, which meant that we could head high on the mountain and glass for rutting bull tahr. Many people who travel to New Zealand opt to hunt tahr out of a helicopter, which is 100% legal. However, the premium ranches which we would be hunting have roads and access which allows hunters to pursue more of a fair chase style of hunting for these majestic animals. We could take UTV side-by-sides to the top of the mountains and hunt down on them if we could find a trophy to go after.
Our guide, Trevor McClintic from Michigan, spends the springs in New Zealand guiding for Lindsay and has for many years. He knows the ranches as well as how to judge these animals and get you what you are looking for. On this day’s hunt, we would be looking for a mature bull tahr, which exceeds the 13” mark with a huge mane. The mane is as much a part of the trophy as the horn quality and a rutted-up bull tahr, with 13-plus inches of horn and a puffed-up mane, is truly a sight to see when he is on a rock, bluff posing for the ladies.
A 3,000 foot vertical climb in a side-by-side is much easier and quicker than doing it on foot and Trevor had us looking over some good bulls within minutes on our first day of hunting. Since we were filming, we were holding out for something pretty special. The clear, cool morning made the sound of the roaring stag in the valley floor below carry and I kept finding myself glassing for stag instead of tahr at times. However, Trevor was diligent in his task and found a solid candidate over a mile away.
The good news was that we could travel around the mountain in the side-by-side and come in above the bull in hopes of getting a shot. An hour later, we were sitting 800 yards above the area we had watched the big bull from across the valley. However, the morning sun was heating up and our target bull had decided to bed in the tall grass. We decided to wait him out in hopes of getting a good shot later in the day. A short time later we heard a shot from the other side of the ranch, followed by radio communication from the other guide, with Matt and Chancy confirming that they had connected on a huge bull and it was all on film.
For several hours we glassed, enjoyed a lunch on the mountain and took in some of the most beautiful fall colors one can imagine. Trevor ended the relaxation with the comment, “He’s up and he is a big one”. Our bull had a couple of other buddies around as well and a slew of ewes parading around the thick grass. You could see glimpses of animals everywhere, but we were too far for a shot. We then moved into just under 300 yards and Jeff settled in on his sticks, but we needed to be sure we were on the right bull and both he and I were communicating to make sure we shot the biggest one and that I indeed had the camera focused on the right one.
We played cat and mouse for fifteen minutes before everything came together. Trevor and I both confirmed that we were on the right bull and Jeff executed a perfect shot, dropping the big bull in his tracks. There were more tahr in the grass than we thought and nearly thirty animals bolted at the report, as we all celebrated a great stalk and shot. Trevor was spot-on with his assessment of this bull and he was everything he thought he was; massive, old and a great trophy.
The lodge was abuzz at dinner with all of the stories of the day’s hunts as well as the photos and video which were shared by all. We were only on day one and we had already experienced a trip of a lifetime, with five more days of hunting to go. Everyone in the group was looking to harvest stag and most of them wanted to upgrade to larger stag than they had originally purchased. This was the case with our winner, Chancy and his buddy Matt and since we had seen some great stag roaring down below, I could hardly wait for day two to kick off.
Jeff and Becky chose to take a day off, so I hunted with Emily and Troy for a stag for her while Matt and Chancy stayed together. Emily smoked a great stag around 400” SCI late on the first morning and Troy shot a whopper 500” plus SCI stag as well (article in SN-Pro Member Update Column in June 2017). Matt shot up the countryside looking to connect on a huge fallow buck, as we were sure his gun was off and a borrowed rifle put the big buck down for good. A later test at the range proved the rifle was okay and Matt’s great sense of humor attributed the problem to be the ‘NUT’ behind the bolt, which I have since used in many of my writings. Chancy spent the better part of the day sizing up different stag and in the later afternoon put the smack down on an upper, four hundred’s type bull.
Over the next couple of days, the Sportsman’s News group put the smack down on just about everything Woodbury Safari Lodge has to offer and enjoyed some of the finest cuisine and lodging anyone could ask for. We even took a day off to sight see and relax before we decided to pursue Jeff’s last trophy. Seeing Troy’s big 500” stag in the horn pile had him focused on getting a whopper and that would be our target for the day.
Stag of this caliber aren’t found around every corner, but Trevor said that he knew of at least one big one that he felt was just what we were looking for. It would just be a matter of time before we could turn him up and with a stag like that as the target, everyone wanted to be involved, so it was all-hands-on-deck with spotters everywhere.
The sun was just starting to light up the canyons when Trevor chimed in over the radio and said, “I’ve got our target spotted”. We watched him for the better part of an hour and he finally went to bed in a perfect position for a stalk. Jeff is a good long-range shooter and he had the rifle to get it done. Within an hour, we were set up about four hundred yards from the big stag and could see his antlers protruding from the brush.
As the sun started to heat him up, the stag rose and Jeff about forgot we were filming and executed a precise shot just as I got the camera rolling. The big boy dropped in his tracks. Due to the steepness of the hill, it took a while to get up to that massive rack and he didn’t disappoint. There was truly no ground shrinkage on this stag and he eventually stretched the tape at 517” SCI and is truly a trophy of a lifetime. The entire group was either there or watching from a distance, which made it such a great experience for everyone.
In the end, everyone had harvested everything they had ventured to New Zealand to experience, made some great friends and probably gained ten pounds from Damo’s world-class cooking. The Sportsman’s News team will make this pilgrimage to New Zealand with Lindsay and his crew once again in April of 2019. We have also purchased one trip for a winner and a guest for a red stag up to 400” SCI along with a bull tahr, as well as airfare for two from the nearest major metropolitan airport which will be given away in June of 2018. Entering is as simple as buying an SNTV DVD for $2.99 from your cashier at any Sportsman’s Warehouse and registering your receipt here on the homepage. These DVD’s make great stocking stuffers and each purchase gets you another ticket in the drawing for this $20,000 trip. The Pro Membership Sweepstakes at www.promembershipsweepstakes.com will give away the same hunt minus the airfare as well for that 2019 hunt. This will leave a couple of spots for anyone wanting to be part of our group as well. If you want a guaranteed spot to go, reserve one of the open spots with me at firstname.lastname@example.org